Tips for living happily in a multi-generational family household

Multi-generational homes have become more and more common over the years. Source: Getty

With housing less affordable than ever before and a growing ageing population across Australia, there are now an increasing amount of families choosing to bring multiple generations together to live under one roof. While young adults are choosing to live under their parents’ roofs for longer, ageing parents are moving in with their adult children for additional care.

There can be a number of reasons behind elderly parents moving out of their own home and moving back in with their adult kids, from losing a spouse to experiencing disability or age-related frailty. Meanwhile, more and more adult children are choosing to stay at home with Mum and Dad rather than take the leap and move out on their own, due to pressures such as the increasing cost of living.

Now, a survey by comparison website claims that more than a third of Aussies over the age of 18 are still living in their family home. And in some rare cases, these young adults have children of their own, which only makes it all more crowded.

Family dynamics are complicated as it is, especially when three or more generations are living together. If you’ve never really got along with your parents it can be even more difficult and this can cause tension within the household. But there are some simple things you can do to make the transition a smooth one for all family members:

Set up boundaries in the home

If multiple generations share your home, setting up boundaries is really important, especially when it comes to discipline. Grandparents love spoiling their grandchildren, but at some point a grandchild will misbehave with no parent in sight, so do you discipline? It’s a question that everyone has an answer for, but what’s right? In most cases, parents are unlikely to have a problem with how you discipline their child if you’re using their methods, especially if their child’s safety is at risk, and if you’re lucky, you’ll also have similar values (since you raised them!).

But there will probably be times that you don’t agree with the way your children are bringing up their kids, whether it’s what they eat or what time they go to bed. However, according to Ruth Nemzoff, the author of Don’t Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with Your Adult Children, parents are in charge when it comes to their children, so in most cases, grandparents should defer to them, even if their parenting approach is different.

On the other hand, while it can be a pleasure to spend more time with grandchildren, if you don’t set boundaries with your adult children early on, you run the risk of being on nanny duty indefinitely. Meanwhile, it’s also important to remember not to get too involved in your kid’s marriage, especially when an argument breaks out, although this can be pretty difficult when you all live together.

Jessica Bruno, a popular blogger from the US, who lives in a four-generation household, wrote: “It is hard enough getting along in a marriage or a relationship with a significant other but throw in some kids, your parents and your grandparents under the same roof and imagine the insanity. If you want to know the  truth, it really is insanity.”

The importance of private spaces

If you’re planning to make the household change, be prepared for mania. With three generations living under one roof, it’s safe to say things are going to get pretty hectic, which is why it’s important everyone has their own privacy.

Whether you have a full-on ensuite or just one room, make sure everyone has their own quiet space to go to when things get a little too overwhelming. Meanwhile, if you have grandkids and you need some space every now and then, it might be worth chatting to their parents about making your room off-limits.

Seek professional and financial advice before moving in

If you’re contemplating moving several generations under one roof, a formal written agreement is essential. According to Australia’s leading consumer advocacy group Choice, a written agreement will protect all stakeholders and prevent any disputes down the track.

Meanwhile, the consumer group also recommends getting professional and financial advice from a lawyer or expert before moving in together, as the new arrangement may impact government entitlements such as the aged pension.

Open communication is key

Conflict is inevitable in a multi-generation household and it can arise from anything, from leaving the milk out on the kitchen bench to spending too long in the bathroom or even hogging the television. But communicating openly as a family and speaking up when you have an issue straight away could potentially prevent conflict. Meanwhile, it’s also super important that all key players understand why you’re all living together to avoid any misunderstanding in the future.

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